Civil servants are complicit in the “orchestration” of a pro-Remain conspiracy, Tory backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg has dramatically claimed.
The Brexiteer MP has doubled down on allegations he made in the House of Commons and suggested there was “a pattern” in how Treasury staff were operating.
His defiant speech at the Mile End Institute came as Brexit minister Steve Baker was forced to apologise for airing false claims about think tank boss Charles Grant in an extraordinary exchange with Rees-Mogg in Parliament on Thursday.
Baker agreed with Rees-Mogg that Grant had told him Treasury staff deliberately skewed analyses to spell Brexit doom for the UK economy under every scenario bar staying in the Customs Union.
Audio of the conversation later proved the claims about Grant were inaccurate and Baker offered an apology.
But during the event at Queen Mary University of London, Rees-Mogg not only repeated claims about Grant to an audience but attacked Chancellor Philip Hammond’s stewardship of the Treasury.
The North East Somerset MP highlighted a tweet Grant posted in July in which the Centre for European Reform boss pointed to a Guardian article showing “how the Treasury is pushing UK govt towards a softer Brexit” as “well-informed”.
Rees-Mogg then said he was “suspicious” of how the Treasury was operating and drew parallels between events of the last two weeks and the Remain campaign behaviour leading up to the Brexit vote.
A Government analysis was this week leaked to Buzzfeed and Hammond drew ire from Brexiteers for proposing a “very modest” Brexit during a talk in Davos in the days before.
Rees-Mogg said: “You just wonder if there isn’t a pattern in that, whether there is some orchestration rather than a constellation of the stars.”
He went on: ”[The Treasury] have produced something which models various scenarios for our trade that assumes we would apply the common external tariff to our trading partners once we have left the Customs Union.
“It’s absolutely bonkers. No Government in its right mind would higher tariffs than there already are on food, clothing and footwear. It would simply make the standard of living for people in this country worse for no benefit to the country. Why would any Government do that?
“So the underlying assumptions that the Treasury are basing its forecasts upon are designed to produce a bad outcome from the forecast.
“It is exactly what they did prior the referendum so it is of a piece. So what Charles Grant did or didn’t say at lunch doesn’t really matter very much and I never claimed to have heard it.
“What does matter is that he broadly indicated this in a tweet and it fits in with the facts and it is why you can so suspicious of these forecasts because they are designed to a particular end and the end is to say the only thing we should do, lo and behold, is stay in the Customs Union, which basically means not leaving the EU.”
Asked directly if he believed civil servants were skewing the evidence, Rees Mogg took aim at the Chancellor, indicating he did not believe Hammond had reformed the department since taking over from George Osborne.
He said: “I think the blame should always lie with ministers, actually.
“And we knew very clearly before the Brexit vote that the Treasury was being guided very strongly by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer and it is the Chancellor of the Exchequer who has to take responsibility for his department.”
During the Commons exchange, Baker was asked if he was told “officials in the Treasury had deliberately developed a model to show that all options other than staying in the Customs Union were bad, and that officials intended to use this to influence policy”.
Ree-Mogg then suggested parts of the UK civil service were going “against the spirit” of impartiality and independence it was legally bound to have.
Baker replied he was “sorry to say” Rees-Mogg’s account was “essentially correct”.
The minister said: “At the time I considered it implausible, because my direct experience is that civil servants are extraordinarily careful to uphold the impartiality of the civil service.
“I think we must proceed with great caution in this matter, but I have heard him raise this issue.”
After uproar from the Labour benches, Baker back-peddled slightly.
“I did not say it was correct, I said the account that was put to me is correct,” he said. “It was put to me, I considered it an extraordinary allegation, I still consider it an extraordinary allegation.”
Baker was then forced into an apology when Grant himself strongly refuted the claim.
In a statement, Grant said: “I did not say or imply that the Treasury had deliberately developed a model to show that all non-customs union options were bad, with the intention to influence policy.”